AUCKLAND (Reuters) – Fiji highlighted how dangerous they could be on the counterattack at the World Cup as they scored two scintillating long-range tries to beat Tonga 29-19 at Eden Park on Saturday.
The match, part of a ‘Pasifika Challenge’ double header that also included Samoa beating a New Zealand Heartland XV 36-19 in the first game, was the final warmup match for the Fijians before they head to Japan.
Fiji open their Pool D campaign against Australia on Sept. 21 and demonstrated on Saturday how dangerous they would be if the Wallabies kick poorly and do not shut down their exciting backline.
Former Australian rugby league international Semi Radradra, even though he was facing the highly experienced duo of Cooper Vuna and captain Siale Piutau in the midfield, proved especially difficult to shut down.
The ball-handling skills and long-loping strides of the speedy forwards that have propelled Fiji to sevens dominance were also evident, while their stinging defence ensured Tonga did not run away with the game in the first half.
Tonga, who face the All Blacks next week in Hamilton, looked far more organised as they controlled the ball for long phases but could not penetrate the Fijian defence.
Both of their first half tries, to Piutau and hooker Paula Ngauamo, were the result of patient buildups, however, the Fijians went into the break with a 17-12 lead after they pounced on three turnovers.
Wingers Josua Tuisava and Vereniki Goneva finished off sweeping long-range movements, while flanker Semi Kunatani dived over in the corner after a dropped ball by Tonga’s scrumhalf Sona Takulua gave Fiji the ball inside the 22-metre area.
Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu crossed to give Fiji a 24-12 lead, before a try to Tonga winger Viliami Lolohea was controversially ruled out by referee Ben O’Keeffe for a dangerous tackle on Kalivati Tawake.
The Fijian prop, however, appeared to duck his head into the contact as the Tonga player attempted a legitimate tackle.
Fiji hooker Samuel Matavesi crossed to make it 29-12 before Sefo Sakalia narrowed the gap with a consolation try.
The Fijians now have a series of final training camps before their opener against the Wallabies and also play Uruguay, Georgia and Wales in Pool D.
Tonga’s first game in Pool C is against England on Sept. 22. before they face Argentina, France and the United States.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)